Recent video footage of soldiers arriving home unexpectedly to surprise their families and friends stirs our deepest emotions. Images of children running to welcome a father or mother who has been on an extended tour of duty on a foreign field leave us teary eyed. We’re moved at the sight of a wife or mother with her arms wrapped tightly around the neck of a returning soldier, or of a father standing tall and proud beside a son or daughter who has served bravely the country they love.
Now, imagine the welcome-home party that greeted Chaplain (Col.) Robert Freeman Mashburn, USA Retired, early Saturday morning, February 22, as he stepped into the presence of Jesus Christ. Pneumonia … gone; frailty … erased; limitation … lifted. Surely he wept when he heard the words, “Welcome home, Soldier. Well done!”
Though Freeman Mashburn was a soldier of a different caliber--one who never fired a weapon on enemy troops--he was, nonetheless, a great American patriot and loyal churchman. He served his country and the International Pentecostal Holiness Church (IPHC) faithfully as an army chaplain in three wars: World War II, the Korean War, and the war in Vietnam. He retired in 1972 with the rank of colonel.
Freeman spoke modestly about the numerous military medals, commendations, and decorations he received. These included a WWII Victory Medal, American Campaign Medal, European African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, Korean Service Medal, United Nations Service Medal, the Vietnam Campaign Medal, and the National Defense Service Medal, with one oak leaf cluster. In addition, he was awarded the Bronze Star, with the “V” (for Valor) Device, for helping rescue a soldier under fire off the front line in Korea.
Freeman began his earthly journey on February 19, 1919, in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. He was one of three children born to the Reverend James Hubert and Essie (Strickland) Mashburn. Like their parents before them, the Mashburn children--Norman, Freeman, and Mabel—never lost their zeal for God and His kingdom.
Freeman turned 95 on February 19, three days prior to his home-going.
At the tender age of 10, Freeman committed his life to Christ, and he relished telling how he grew up knowing he was going to be a preacher. In preparation for that calling, he attended Holmes Bible College in Greenville, South Carolina. From there he completed one year at Emmanuel College in Franklin Springs, Georgia. Finally, he enrolled at Piedmont College in Georgia, where he earned a degree in philosophy.
In the late 1940s, Freeman returned to Holmes Bible College, not as a student but as a Bible instructor. During that time, he met and married Colleen Hilley, an especially charming and talented female student. They were married in September of 1949.
As a churchman, Freeman served as a pastor, conference superintendent, General Executive Board member, director of Chaplains Ministries for five years, director of the IPHC Loan Fund, and administrative assistant to the General Superintendent.
Preceding and following his military service, the Mashburns pastored churches in the Eastern Virginia (Redemption Ministries) and Alabama (Alpha) conferences. He also served as superintendent of the Mid-Atlantic Conference.
In 2005, the Mashburns moved from Alabama back to Oklahoma City to be near their sons, Joe and John. Their other three children, Bob, Jim, and Pat are scattered from the West Coast to the East Coast.
As a credentialed minister, Freeman was a member of the Alpha Conference, but he and Colleen held nominal membership at River of Life Church in northwest Oklahoma City. They attended regularly until health issues prevented them from being present. Pastor Richard Goad says the Mashburns have the gift of encouragement. “They always made me feel like I was the best preacher they had ever heard. Just being around them lifted my spirit.” Though the chaplaincy was Freeman’s career choice and personally rewarding in many ways, he and Colleen spoke fondly of their pastorates. In an interview in 2009, Freeman said, “Working with the people was the most rewarding experience of my life. My advice to young pastors is, love God and love the people.” He modeled that counsel until the day the Lord took him home. Even the personnel at the nursing home and hospital, where he spent his last few months on this earth, remarked about his great love for God and others.
Freeman’s close friend and fellow chaplain (retired) Hugh H. Morgan reported Colonel Mashburn’s homegoing in the February 22 edition of his e-newsletter, Hugh’s News.
On Friday (February 21), Colleen and members of her family, along with Pastor Richard Goad, were present to minister to Freeman in the closing hours of his earthly life. Pastor Goad offered a powerful prayer that touched heaven, and the presence of God was so real in the room... Colleen commented that the room was bright with the glory of God and that she could almost hear the rushing of angels’ wings, indicating that heaven had been notified to come for the soul and spirit of Freeman….
“How can we ever express adequate gratitude for the extraordinary service of men like Robert Freeman Mashburn who has given so much in service to God, country, and the church?” writes Morgan. “Although not tall in physical stature, Freeman stands tall in my eyes as a member of the greatest generation of Americans. He is a true patriot.”
Dr. Doug Beacham, General Superintendent of the IPHC, said, “CH Mashburn served Christ and the IPHC with distinction. Retired Army Chaplain Lou Shirey rightly termed him as one of our denominational patriarchs. He served with grace, love, truth, and Spirit-anointed dignity. His 95 years of joyful life leaves his immediate family and his church family a blessed heritage.”
Colonel Mashburn passed from this life into the next as he slept. But his family, friends, and cohorts have no trouble imagining the great welcome-home party that surely awaited him as he awoke in the presence of Jesus Christ and heard these words: “Welcome home, Soldier. Welcome home!”